The fascinating underwater world is out of sight and mind to many. Its creatures are masked by a watery cloak, and the game fish tugged from the depths by rod and reel are just the tip of the iceberg of what lurks below.
The new “A Naturalists Guide to the Fishes of Ohio” brings this world to readers in an exceptionally user-friendly way.
Authored by Daniel Rice, the text is lively and informative. Brilliant color photos by his collaborator, Brian Zimmerman, pop from the pages. Virtually all of the fish photos are of live animals caught in the wild, imaged and released.
Both Rice and Zimmerman are veteran fish men, each having spent countless hours exploring nearly every body of water in Ohio. This experience comes through in the book, yet readers are not overwhelmed with technical information that could be deciphered only by an ichthyologist.
It is the simple yet engaging way that this book describes our fishes that helps make it such a treasure. Many such books are heavy-handed tomes packed with information, but are often dull reads and mostly off-limits to the general public. Not so this book, even though it includes everything you’d probably want to know.
The book’s introductory material is rich in information about aquatic habitats, the history of fish conservation and study, a map of Ohio’s major drainages, and a key to fish identification. Want to know the best fish streams in Ohio, the primary threats to fish, how to better observe them, or the top 10 most pollution-tolerant species? Such information, and more, is included.
The meat of the guide is its 170 species accounts, each of which covers two pages. Additionally, 17 one-page accounts cover nonnative fishes and hybrids. The primary accounts are well-organized and include easily interpreted information of interest to readers.
Each species account features a gorgeous color image of the fish in question, showing better detail than if you had it in your hand. Short sections detail identification and similar species, habitat, associate species, spawning and abundance. A perk is “best sites”, featuring the prime locales for the fish in question. Artful maps show, in detail, the fish’s distribution.
A standout of each account is Rice’s introductory text. In about 400 words, he paints an informative overview of the species, including interesting tidbits and factoids that would not be widely known. By doing so, he personalizes the animal in a way that few such books do.
Under each species’ photo is a colored bar that visually interprets the risk of extirpation (local extinction). It ranges from 1 to 10, with the lower end representing species that are secure. The higher the number, the more vulnerable the species is to threats. Although many fishes have declined, we learn that many others have increased dramatically in recent decades, such as bigeye chub, bluebreast darter and smallmouth redhorse.
The “Guide to the Fishes of Ohio” sets a new bar. Although information-rich — it includes about everything anyone would want to know about Ohio fishes — the guide is easy to absorb, infinitely understandable and a treat to peruse. Reading the accounts of species such as dace, darters, and lamprey is sure to fire anyone’s imagination about what lies below the water’s surface. I highly recommend this book.
Naturalist Jim McCormac writes a column for The Dispatch on the first, third and fifth Sundays of the month. He also writes about nature at www.jimmccormac.blogspot.com.